Missed opportunity in 2002 still haunts Senegal

FRANCEVILLE (Gabon) • Senegal coach Aliou Cisse looks back at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations with a sense of unfinished business.

The Lions of Teranga have never won the continental trophy, but they came very close 15 years ago in Mali when they reached the final for the first time.

Cameroon stood in their way that day in Bamako and came out on top in a penalty shoot-out following a goalless 120 minutes.

Cisse, then the captain, missed Senegal's last penalty, and both he and the country are still waiting to lift the Cup.

"A sense of unfinished business, a job not yet accomplished," Cisse said when asked about his memories of 2002.

"It is true that every day we say to the players, 'Don't make the error that we made'.

"When you have the possibility to write history, it's now, not tomorrow.

"In 2002, we were 25, 26 years old and we said to ourselves, 'No worries, in 2004 we will win it'.

"And we still haven't won it. It is a regret."

Cisse skippered Senegal during that all too brief golden generation as they also made it to the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup.

It was a year he will never forget for multiple reasons - he also lost a dozen members of his own family in a ferry disaster.

The midfielder needed remarkable strength of character to come through that and continue his career at the top level.

After a playing career that saw him win 35 caps for Senegal and also turn out for the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, Montpellier, Portsmouth and Birmingham, Cisse went into coaching and took charge of his country in March 2015.

It was a rare chance for an African coach to manage one of the continent's leading sides.

Cisse is one of only four African coaches at this year's tournament and Florent Ibenge of Democratic Republic of Congo is the only other one to have made the last eight.

"There is the choice to come and pass on our experience," said Cisse. "Senegal gave me the opportunity and I am happy to do it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Missed opportunity in 2002 still haunts Senegal'. Print Edition | Subscribe